As night falls and trick-or-treating children transform into ghosts, goblins, witches and monsters, some families will opt for costumes with a more biblical bent.
For evangelical Christians, Halloween has become the holiday to shun.
Some ignore it altogether, but increasingly churches are offering alternative celebrations to a day they believe encourages witchcraft, Satanism and the occult.
"Halloween has been exploited and commercialized so that devils and witches and ghosts have become the predominant theme, and we want to do something more positive," said the Rev. Leah White, administrator of New Psalmist Christian School, where an Octoberfest celebration was held yesterday.
White also is pastor at Greater Faith Baptist Church in Remington, site of a "Christ-o-ween" celebration this afternoon.
Metropolitan Church of God in Highlandtown held a Praise Night on Wednesday with games, religious videos and refreshments.
"The kids always ask if they can dress up," said Deborah Tsakalas, youth leader and wife of the pastor there. "Our response is, 'If you're going to dress up, it must be a biblical character or an animal. Nothing ghouly or witchy or anything like that.' "
At Evangel Cathedral Church of God in Essex, more than 500 people are expected to gather tonight for the 10th annual Fall Harvest Festival. Rick Cech, vice principal of the church's school, Evangel Christian Academy, pioneered the festival.
"We did it to protect our kids, to start out with," he said. "My children were primary-grade age and earlier and they were really alarmed at the focus on evil. You'd have people dripping with fake blood. They were alarmed, and I think it was a wrong message."
Locally, gospel artists are to perform. Nationwide, the Trinity Broadcasting Network will have a live, two-hour telecast tonight featuring Carman, a popular Christian singer. And the Abundant Life Christian Center outside Denver will stage its popular Hell House, replacing the typical haunted house with a depiction of eternal damnation.
The evangelical attitude toward Halloween is reflected in "A Christian Perspective on Halloween: Hallowed or Harmful," an article on Pat Robertson's Christian Broadcasting Network Web site (www.cbn.org), which recounts Halloween's Celtic roots. It was originally celebrated as Samhain, a festival that marked the eve of the Celtic new year, beginning Nov. 1.
"But while children and adults innocently imitate Celtic customs, darker practices exist," the article says. "Witches and Satanists still consider Halloween to be one of the strongest times during the year to cast a spell."
Larry Eskridge, associate director of the Institute for the Study of American Evangelicals at Wheaton College, said evangelical Christian opposition to Halloween can be traced to the late 1960s and early '70s, when there seemed to be an increased interest in the occult. Several influential books, including Hal Lindsey's "Satan Is Alive and Well on Planet Earth," fanned the flames.
"My feeling is that this is becoming the norm in most evangelical churches," Eskridge said. "Halloween is off the plate now."
The Rev. John Draper, director of missions for the Baltimore Baptist Association, said he has seen the trend in recent years.
"There's some apprehension about the occultist atmosphere that is related to Halloween, either because things are taken lightly rather than seriously or some see it as an unwitting alliance with things that have a negative impact spiritually," he said. "I've heard some people refer to it as a birthday party for the devil."
Still, there is no unanimity among Baptists.
"We have some churches that will allow the trick-or-treating but simply want to provide a safe environment," he said. "Many churches do provide that kind of alternative [celebration] just from the standpoint of safety, apart from any spiritual concern."
And parents may face resistance from their children, who see their classmates go trick-or-treating.
"On the outside, it does look like fun," Tsakalas said. "The kids see the parties. This has always been a struggle for us, even with my own kids, because you don't want your children to feel excluded from things."
She added: "We feel it's not right. And you shouldn't be teaching your kids that it's right."
Pub Date: 10/31/98